Kenya Dispatch: Mombasa, Kilifi, and a little Eldoret

I’ve been fortunate to have traveled a bit the past 2 weeks inside Kenya. Our office is in Nairobi, and I’ve been able to travel around the city (even went to Karen one night for drinks and music). Guess I was a little out of Africa? Check the link for the pun…

I’ve also been back to Kibera for a couple of meetings and to run a public speaking workshop for some of the high achieving young men who my friend Suraj introduced me to. It was a really fun, inspiring night and taught me a ton about active listening and positive feedback. My friend Faiz took some photos so when I get those from him, I will try to share them.

Last weekend, I traveled to Mombasa and Kilifi with my friends Faiz and Kevin. Faiz is a lawyer with Acumen Fund, who is here in Kenya for a 2-month stint. Kevin is an Acumen Fund Fellow working in Tanzania with D.Light Design. Both of these guys are fascinating in their own right – having done cool work before and now with Acumen – and it was a pleasure to travel with them.

(FYI, Faiz was a private equity and M&A lawyer with Skadden-Arps in Philadelphia for 7 years before joining Acumen Fund. His legal experience is something we’re thrilled to be able to have on board. Before becoming an Acumen Fellow, Kevin ran his own NGO with his wife in rural Tanzania, doing education on HIV/AIDS with low-income villagers. Now he’s working with D.Light to market and sell solar-powered LED lights that are fantastic alternatives to kerosene.)

Anyway, our flight to Mombasa couldn’t have been better. We ended up running into three acquaintances who work for the Rockefeller Foundation while at the airport – and it turned out they too were going to Mombasa. So we had the chance to hang out and ended up going to dinner together upon our arrival in Mombasa. My friends Ajay and Amon both recommended that we go to the Tamarind, so off we went…

…and man was it good. The place is as beautiful as these pictures make it out to seem. The food was awesome, especially the seafood and the desserts (lime and tree tomato sorbet!). The bill was…large. The most I have spent in Kenya on any 1 meal. But considering what a mid-range meal in New York costs, it was a steal. And did I mention the setting? Overlooking the bay, with a view out to the Indian Ocean, stars twinkling in the sky…perfect.

It was also just fun to run into my friend Margot Brandenburg – who works at Rockefeller – on the way to Mombasa. I mean, we see each other all the time in New York – what are the chances of meeting up in Kenya. Small world moment #1.

So after dinner and bidding the girls goodbye, the three of us decamped to our hotel in downtown Mombasa, the Castle Royale. I couldn’t help but think of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction…”You know what they call a quarter pounder in France? Royale with cheese.”

We walked around the Old City the next morning, and despite getting an early start (7:00 for breakfast, by 8:00 we were walking) it was still absurdly hot. Heat aside, Fort Jesus and the Old City were both interesting, but by the time we finished a half day there, we were ready to head up the coast and hit the beach.

(Photos of the market forthcoming – not enough bandwidth to upload from home, sorry).

So into the car we went, and up the coast…to Kilifi. Here’s where the world gets REALLY small. I had met a guy named Andrew Youn on my first night in Nairobi – we went to dinner together. Turns out Andrew co-founded the One Acre Fund, one of my favorite social enterprises / anti-poverty NGOs. They work with more than 20,000 one acre farmers (hence the name) to get them more productive, more connected to markets – essentially, to get them more income. The guy’s doing great work.

Anyway, a few weeks later, I mentioned to Andrew casually in an e-mail that I would be going to Mombasa, and he suggested I get in touch with his friend Tevis. An email intro followed. Turns out, I had met Tevis way back in 2008 at the Pop!Tech conference in Maine. He runs a super cool organization called KOMAZA, whose headquarters are a beach house in the sleepy town of Kilifi, about an hour and a half north of Mombasa.

Andrew suggested I go hang out with Tevis; Tevis graciously invited the three of us to come and hang out so lo and behold, there we were, rolling into nowheresville to hang out with some dude I had met for a couple hours nearly two years back. The world is a small place…

…and a very, very generous place. Tevis and the KOMAZA crew (Joel, Sarah, and all the rest) were incredibly welcoming. We hung out by their pool. We went to the beach with their rescue mutt and played frisbee with local kids (pictures coming, I promise). We had bizarrely good brick oven pizza. And we went to a party on the roof of the only hotel in town that lasted until 3:00 in the morning.

It was a fun weekend.

Lesson: the world is a really small place, and the social enterprise world is even smaller. But more than anything, the generosity of people towards strangers is just a wonderful and powerful thing. Thanks to Andrew, I reconnected with Tevis, learned how he’s doing and met a ton of great folks.

For what it’s worth, there are forthcoming stories on both One Acre Fund and KOMAZA on NextBillion…will try to link back here when those are up.

Finally, and I am admittedly running out of steam here, I just spent the last 36 hours in Eldoret, in Western Kenya. It was green and beautiful, though I spent the 2 days in a series of 10 meetings related to our health portfolio. A fun, productive and informative trip.

More on Eldoret later, hopefully.


About Rob

Twitter @robertkatz
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2 Responses to Kenya Dispatch: Mombasa, Kilifi, and a little Eldoret

  1. Mom says:

    I am exhausted reading all of this – sounds like an equatorial whirlwind. I’ll look at NextBillion too – I’m sure the links just keep on-coming…

    Hope you can put your photos and some captions together in a PPT when you get home, or on the 20+ hour flights home…

    Looking forward to seeing you, “safe and secure” in NYC…. PS – what is your return home flight # and time of arrival?


  2. Ellen U says:

    Time to sleep?


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